Rainer Maria Rilke, “I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone”

I am Much too Alone in this World, Yet not Alone

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Annemarie S. Kidder

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

I like the emphasis on the word “enough” with the turning of the first and fourth line. The idea that one is never alone enough to fully devote oneself to the passing of an hour shines with humility in the same way that the idea one is never small enough to not matter shines with optimism.

The second stanza, especially the first line, just takes my breath away.  While the idea of mirroring may suggest an erasure of individuality, autonomy and singularity, there is something profoundly beautiful and moving about being fully present in another person’s presence.  Becoming someone else’s mirror may be the ultimate act of kindness—by providing a point of identification, by making the other person visible, and by letting her know that she is not alone.  “I want my conscience to be / true before you”—isn’t this the most precious gift we can give to another being and receive in return?

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